In a nation that is understandably obsessed with race matters, it is a forgone conclusion that race matters. Considering the ever-present nature of American racial matters, I am never surprised when the haunting specter of race that dogged Thomas Jefferson, Gabriel Prosser, Abraham Lincoln, David Walker, and Frederick Douglass appears to remind us of who we really are as Americans.
The latest appearance of a race matter surrounds filmmaker Nate Parker who has achieved wide acclaim for his yet to be released film The Birth of a Nation. Make no mistake about it, Parker and his film’s emergence is a timely rebuttal to the lily-white Oscar ceremonies. According to industry insiders, The Birth of a Nation was perfectly positioned to inject unprecedented amounts of color to this year’s Academy Award season.
Unfortunately for this impressive young filmmaker and to the disappointment of an impressive cadre of supporters that includes filmmaker Spike Lee and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, Nate Parker, and by extension The Birth of a Nation, has found himself ensnared in a most unfortunate scandal that dates back to his time as an undergraduate student at Penn State University.
I am certain that you have heard of the rape trial involving Nate Parker and the co-writer of The Birth of a Nation, Jean McGianni Celestin. Parker was acquitted of the charges, while Celestin, Parker’s collegiate roommate, was initially convicted of the charge; he would eventually be exonerated of the charge in future court proceedings. It is this significant blight in Parker’s past that has risen to eclipse what many thought was a blindingly bright future.
Now I am most certainly not interested in rehashing the sordid details of the case, trust me when I say that such information is readily available in other places as Parker’s past dealings with a white female have led to his aforementioned glorious future being continually raked over coals that threaten to make him a social pariah.
This matter has unintentionally raised a very interesting question that I posed to several African-American females of ‘What if the female who issued the scandalous allegations against Mr. Parker had been an African-American female?’
Prior to diving into this most delicate issue, I must issue a few disclaimers: (A) despite the pervasive racial prejudice and gender bias that I have encountered as an African-American male, I still believe that Malcolm X’s piercing observation that “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman, the most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman” is the Gospel, (B) I am operating from a platform that realizes that the vast majority of African-American women that I am related to, have dated, or consider friends have been sexually assaulted or raped by some African-American male that they personally knew, (C) not a single one of the aforementioned crimes, and yes they were crimes, ever went to trial.
The resurfacing of this charge against Nate Parker and the failure of any of the aforementioned crimes to make it past a superficial investigation period reminds me of the context surrounding the lynching of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Civil Rights workers knew very well that their activities were extremely dangerous because it was not particularly startling when one of their comrades disappeared under dubious circumstances and was never heard from again. SNCC activists, particularly the African-Americans within the organization, understood the harsh, yet irrefutable reality that if they were abducted, there would not be a law enforcement driven search to save them while they were in the land of the living or even to discover their dead corpse.
This point was driven home when three SNCC workers, two of whom were not Black, disappeared and J. Edgar Hoover sent Federal Bureau of Investigation agents into Mississippi to find them. It was obvious to all, the search for what most understood were dead bodies was aimed at finding the corpses of Schwerner and Goodman, not their Black counterpart James Earl Chaney.
This public outcry against Nate Parker, who was once again found not guilty of the allegations, reeks of similar priorities that place more value upon some lives other than others. When I posed this question of would things be different regarding Mr. Parker if the person issuing the allegation were an African-American woman to a group of Black women, the response was fast and furious.
One sister related, “First of all, this matter would not even be being discussed by persons outside of her inner-circle because they would be the only one’s who even knew about it. The vast majority of Black women have learned to protect Black men regardless of what they do to us behind closed doors and if she did call the authorities, they would have swiftly explained to her that she caused this, especially when it came to light that she had engaged in a sexual act with him the previous night. Shoot, she would have been called a hoe and possibly charged with making a false police report.”
I was not surprised when these sentiments were seconded by a sister who stated, “C’mon, we all know how the game goes. Justice is not blind. As soon as they see that you are a Black woman, all of the biases and prejudices they hold in their minds, you know, the shit that they never say in front of ‘mixed-company’, rushes to the forefront of their mind and before you know it, if you’re not being directly blamed for what happened to you, the insinuation is there and I don’t care who you are telling your story to. Hell, my family even blamed me for what happened to me when I finally shared it with them.”
Make no mistake about it, the issue situated at the core of this matter is the reality that so many African-American males hold on to flawed manhood constructs that inexplicably encourages them to measure their masculinity, if not their very humanity, by their sexual escapades and conquests.
Unfortunately for African-American women, they are the primary targets of what for many Black men is an indomitable and unquenchable sexual predatory behavior. Shamefully such behavior is emanating from the very men who have historically been assigned the task of protecting Black women. Although it is rarely mentioned, African-American men have often absconded from their role as protector and effortlessly transformed into the very sexual predators that they were expected to fend off. Predictably, each of the ladies in the group that I spoke to not only knew their assailant, but also found themselves in their presence after the incident.
One stunningly beautiful sister related that the manner in which this decades old issue involving Nate Parker’s sexual tryst has placed Black women. “When you really think about what all of this means, as a Black woman you are left with an all too familiar feeling of being compelled to defend a brother against an attack from whites. We are expected to defend Nate Parker out of racial solidarity, however, no one, and I do mean no one, comes to defend us from the very wolves that Nate Parker himself represents in our midst. And I dare anyone to deny the fact that Black men only view Black women through a racial lens when they need protecting, at all other moments we are nothing more than prey that they hunt. So to answer your original question, ‘What difference would it make if the female was Black?’
I don’t think, no I know, that we wouldn’t even be having this conversation because the victim, regardless of her education, social class, or age, would be considered little more than some Black hoe that was out in the streets doing the wrong thing and some ‘brother’ gave her what she desperately desired. I am absolutely certain of that much.”
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016